Books I recommend – September 2015



1. The Word Exchange
by Alena Graedon


An intriguing dystopian novel based on the “death of print” and the written word. (Let’s hope it remains fiction.) Great for word lovers. The chapters aren’t numbered, but alphabetized. The protagonist works with her father in printing the last edition of the North American Dictionary of the English Language, when things go awry and “word flu” hits. Parts of the novel were difficult to read as the characters grew sicker and lost their vocabulary and had to make up their own words. (You’ll see the word aphasia often.) But you could always figure out their intent (proof of an intelligent author who is good with words herself!).

“When I got back here, I had to lie down. Zat a headache that could have killed a dog. And gwy, I slept for hours and woke up suffering, my head hot and huge, like a pluke, my throat sookh. Zabad achy and stomach sick. I should probably visit a clinic. See if I trebbow more medicine.”

2. Anna Karenina
by Leo Tolstoy


“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

I started this classic Russian novel in June, and I just now finished! The intermingling of storylines with very minimal tangents for a novel of this era kept me hooked until the very end. As usual when I read novels like this, I had to read SparkNotes alongside it to help me keep the characters straight. (The worst thing? In a totally unrelated non-fiction book I was reading a month ago, the first line of that book revealed the ending of this book! Ugh! I guess they assumed everyone should know the ending of Anna Karenina by now? I didn’t.)

3. The Invisible Girls
A Memoir
by Sarah Thebarge


This relatively young author (27 at the time) shares this memoir of her struggle with breast cancer (so sad) and her finding purpose again after encountering and befriending a family of Somali refugees on the subway in Oregon.

“I was going to start writing my story—because writing helped me process my experiences, and because crafting a narrative out of my losses was a way of redeeming the pain.

And I was going to try to find God again. Or maybe give Him the chance to find me? I still wasn’t sure who had lost whom.”

4. A Quest for More
Living for Something Bigger than You
by Paul David Tripp


Mixed reaction to this one. Tripp’s writing can get repetitive, and I disagree with some of his theology (i.e., I don’t believe in the “anger of grace”). However, his main point is a great one—that big kingdom living is much more satisfying than settling for my little self-kingdom life.

“We can do big kingdom things (ministry to others) with little kingdom motives (for respect or acceptance).”

5. Feathers
by Jacqueline Woodson


Frannie is an African-American elementary student in 1971 when a new white boy enters her classroom, the Jesus Boy. This Newbery Award winning novel shows how Frannie’s world becomes enlarged as she starts seeing life from others’ viewpoints. It’s a short book but it will give you a lot to think about.


6. Life in Motion
An Unlikely Ballerina
by Misty Copeland


Even if you’ve only seen Misty Copeland dance on this commercial, I’m sure you’ll agree she’s amazing. She’s the first (and only, so far) African-American ballerina soloist with the American Ballet Theatre, which is a huge accomplishment. Her memoir chronicles her winding journey there.

7. A Curious Mind
The Secret to a Bigger Life
by Brian Grazer


The author is a Hollywood producer who determined early in life to have numerous “curiosity conversations” with accomplished strangers who were not involved in Hollywood movie-moving.

“Curiosity is itself a form of power, and also a form of courage.”

8. Knowing God
by J. I. Packer

Encouraging, challenging, and sometimes controversial, this theological classic makes you think. A group is reading two chapters a week with Tim Challies and sharing our thoughts on a Facebook group. I’m posting weekly summaries here.


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Once a month we share what’s on our nightstand at 5 Minutes for Books.

What are you reading this month? Please share here.


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Previous reading lists

25 thoughts on “Books I recommend – September 2015

  1. Bill (cycleguy)

    I’m reading a book I started a couple of years ago but never followed through with it: Simple Church. I also have PROOF and Openness Unhindered on my desk. I would like to buy On a Sea of Glass (about Titanic) and also a new book about Back to the Future called “Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History. The latter two are recreational reading for home or travel.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Now that’s my kind of list, Bill. Varied and ambitious. 🙂 I’m wondering if I have Simple Church on my Kindle… So many treasures hidden on my Kindle that I never get to, mostly free books that I’ve downloaded the past couple of years. I do think I have Vertical Church on an upcoming list.

  2. Susan

    Oh my, you’ve read so MUCH! My oldest daughter read Anna Karenena and was more “meh” on it — told me it went off on long tangents about war, etc. So, your review makes me a bit more ready to tackle it. I may have ruined it for myself though as in the last year I watched a fairly recent movie of it. It was pretty bleak … how awful that the book you mention contained a spoiler in the FIRST line — what the heck??!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I do understand your daughter’s dislike of the tangents, but there were much fewer in AK than in several other older classics I’ve read lately. So I guess it all depends on your perspective. ha. I have yet to watch a movie of it, but I’m ready to now! I have this thing about using the movies as a reward for finishing the book. 🙂

  3. Linda Stoll

    What you’re reading is always of great interest to me, Lisa. I love that you explore all kinds of genres … more than one of your selections has enlarged my borders.

    It’s just one of the reasons I’m grateful that you’re in my life, girl …

  4. David

    Dear Lisa

    Are you glad to see the back of AK? I am always sad when I reach the end of these things. I don’t remember how the novel finished (read it in the late 80s). The scene that has stayed with me is the proposal scene between Kitty and Levin (?) all done with initials on the card table. Really gripping. That psychological insight and directness is what I like about Tolstoy, but I prefer W&P (now there’s a novel, …). I don’t really approve of those novels with a woman’s name for the title (Cousin Bette, Madame Bovary, etc., there was a rash of them, all with basically the same idea).

    Me: I found an old “Oxford Book of Christian Verse” and I’ve just started reading that. It’s all English poetry (some Americans) but otherwise a very nice mix of high literature, hymns and folk poetry (i.e., by “anonymous”).


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, I am glad to see the back of AK! It was long. But worth it. You’re doing good to remember anything about it if it’s been that long ago since you read it. I’m impressed. 🙂 I’m not crazy about the title being named after Anna either since she wasn’t the only main character. And not even my favorite character. Glad you found a poetry book you like. I’m not there yet, but maybe one day I’ll develop a love for poetry. 😉

  5. Barbara H.

    The Word Exchange sounds really interesting. How frustrating that someone gave away the ending to AK so easily! One classic I was reading (forget which) had notes at the beginning, but as I read them I found they, too, were assuming everyone knew the plot. I don’t know why they didn’t put their notes at the END of the book. But I stopped reading them til I had finished the book itself.

    I’ve seen Misty Copeland dance once or twice – amazing.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, I have to monitor how I read notes, too. Even with Spark Notes or Cliff Notes, I have to read only the chapter summaries and not veer down into the analysis of each chapter because they contain so many spoilers. Wish they wouldn’t do that.

  6. floyd

    Some of those sound interesting. Good job, speed reader!

    I did finally finish Unbroken and Jerry Lee Lewis, His Story by Rick Bragg. Long reads the both of them. Good reads too, if you don’t mind big books.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Congrats on finishing big books! Sometimes I don’t mind them; sometimes I do. 🙂 I’ve found I have to take them in small doses. After finishing Anna Karenina, I don’t want to see a really long book like that for a little while.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Just close your ears if anyone around you starts to mention Anna Karenina. 🙂 Hopefully you’ll be more protected than I was. The book that gave away the ending was totally unrelated. Sigh.

  7. Carrie, Reading to Know

    I love the title and idea of this post. It’s always curious to see what books people recommend.

    I’m not sure what Tripp means by “the anger of grace” but it’s a curious phrase to think through.

    Life in Motion sounds really intriguing! Thanks for the tip!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yeah, I’ve recently decided to not even mention the books that I read that I didn’t like. Although there is value in that information too! The “anger of grace” was a very curious concept to me. Tripp went on and on explaining it, but I never could get on board with him on it.

      Life in Motion has been enlightening, to read how hard Misty Copeland’s life was growing up. She had many, many obstacles! Yet she overcame them to live out her dream. Stories like that always inspire.

  8. bekahcubed

    I posted early and am commenting late – but I do love the Nightstand posts.

    Looks like I’m still going to plan on reading The Word Exchange – that’s a fun excerpt, and yes, it does show the author to be a remarkably talented writer.

    The various conversations above about spoilers and book notes and the like gets me thinking about education and how most people encounter many of the classics: by hearing someone analyze them and give away the main plot points. Maybe this is one of the reasons (in addition to the tendency for rabbit trails!) that we so frequently dread the classics? I’m reading Screwtape Letters with the Reading to Know Classics Bookclub and read the notes at the front of the library edition I borrowed. I enjoyed the notes because I’ve read the Letters before, but if I hadn’t…

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You’re right that often we know more than we want to about the plots in the classics before we ever read them. Sigh. I guess there’s nothing we can do about that since they’ve been around for so long. But still, the ending? I wish everyone would hold off on that. 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Spark Notes has saved me on several occasions. I never would have gotten through Brothers Karamazov without them. It seemed that every character had at least 4 names. ha. And yes, now that my kids are gone, I’m reading these longer classics. 🙂

  9. Amy @ Hope Is the Word

    Congratulations on finishing Anna K.! That’s quite a feat!

    Feathers does sound good. I usually like books about racial issues, and Jacqueline Woodson is quite the poet/author. Have you read Brown Girl Dreaming, her Newbery honor book of last year?

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      No, I haven’t read Brown Girl Dreaming but it sounds like one I need to add to my list! You’re teaching me that I need to stay more current with the Newbery books. 🙂 I got slack once my kids were “outgrowing” them, but now I realize that we don’t ever really outgrow great books, whether they’re originally written for kids or not.

  10. Deanna

    Oh bummer about finding out the ending of Anna Karenina while reading another book. Didn’t that make is difficult for you to stay excited about the story? I’ve not read with cliff notes before, I’m about to undertake AK, do you recommend I use Sparks notes? What was the advantage of using them?

    Feathers – interesting, I’ve not heard of it. Is it a new Newbery winner? I need to look into it.

    Misty Copeland fascinates me; beauty exudes off of her in dance. I love looking at photos of her in ballet action. How are you liking the memoir? Is it worth the reading time.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      It did make it hard for me to keep going in Anna Karenina once I heard the ending. 🙁 Fortunately I was far enough into it that I wouldn’t stop, but still. A bummer for sure.

      You could probably do AK without any outside help, but I discovered when I’d read the notes, that I had always missed something significant. ha. That’s probably just me though.

      Yes, Feathers is a Newbery medal winner, and deservedly so. It was a quick read.

      What is amazing me the most about Misty Copeland is how far she had to come. Her childhood was very difficult! She actually came to dance very late, but her natural aptitude for it stood out once she took a class at Boys and Girls Clubs. She had several people in her life in her teen years that took a keen interest in her. That inspires me too to see what a difference caring adults can make in the lives of a child.

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